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Returning a favour

Chemistry alumnus gives back to the university that made him a success

Campus and Community

By Kelly Foss

Dr. Liqin (Larry) Chen (PhD’93) didn’t have much when he arrived in Canada from China in 1990 to begin a PhD at Memorial University.

From left are Dr. Laurie Thompson and Dr. Liqin (Larry) Chen. Dr. Thompson was Dr. Chen’s PhD supervisor.
Photo: Submitted

In fact, he spent the entire day walking around Pearson Airport with his suitcase because he couldn’t afford a hotel room while waiting for a flight to St. John’s.

Thirty years later, he’s the head of TLC Pharmaceutical Standards, a multimillion dollar international pharmaceutical company, and says he owes much of his success to his time at Memorial.

“I work with many people who have great business skills, but it was my knowledge of science that enabled me to see opportunities that others missed,” said Dr. Chen.

Giving back

In recognition of the value of that education, Dr. Chen is donating $100,000 annually for 10 years, for a total of $1 million, to the Department of Chemistry to fund the Chen Graduate Scholarships in Chemistry.

“My parents always reminded us to be grateful – like an old Chinese saying: Return a favour many times more.” — Dr. Liqin (Larry) Chen

These include the Dr. Liqin Chen Graduate Entrance Awards, which provides $3,000 to eligible master’s and PhD students; the Dr. Liqin Chen Graduate Excellence Awards, which provides $5,000 to doctoral students; and the Dr. Liqin Chen Thesis Writing Scholarships for doctoral students who are actively preparing their thesis but are no longer receiving support from the School of Graduate Studies.

“Memorial University and the people there helped me when I needed it the most,” he said. “I came to Canada with all travel expenses borrowed from family and friends. It was the place that changed my life and my family’s life. In my family, my parents always reminded us to be grateful – like an old Chinese saying: Return a favour many times more.”

Many good memories

Dr. Chen received his PhD in Chemistry from Memorial in 1993, under the supervision of Dr. Laurence (Laurie) Thompson. The focus of his doctoral work was on complexation reactions of thio-ether based ligands designed to create polymetallic assemblies.

“I have a lot of good memories from this time – how my supervisor helped me with chemistry, with my career and my family, and memories about other faculty members, staff and people in St. John’s,” he said. “They were very nice and helped a lot of overseas students like me.”

Dr. Chen completed high quality research during his three years at Memorial, producing many new compounds with novel structures and properties. The high-calibre work resulted in 11 scholarly research papers in top journals. On completion of his degree, he was awarded the distinction of fellow of the School of Graduate Studies.

For the next 13 years, he held senior research positions at Xerox Research Centre of Canada and PDI Research Laboratories. In 2006 he returned to academia as a professor of chemistry at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Nanjing Tech University in China.

A leap of faith

However, in 2007, with his scientific background and the insight that an underserved, niche market existed in the pharmaceutical industry, Dr. Chen took a leap of faith and mortgaged his home to establish TLC Pharmaceutical Standards in Aurora, Ont.

The company currently has approximately 250 employees and sells its product to 75 countries around the world.

“I am a person who wanted to do a good job, a perfect job, since the first time I stepped into chemistry laboratory.” — Dr. Liqin (Larry) Chen

“I was bored with the routine job I would have to do every day until my retirement,” he said. “I also believed a company could do better if they listened to scientists more, which was lacking in the company I worked for before I resigned.”

Dr. Chen recently purchased a former automobile manufacturing plant in Nanjing, China, that will serve as the company headquarters in that country. He is also expanding to India and Brazil.

Under his leadership, the company led the field in the synthesis of pharmaceutical reference standards for biomedical and pharmaceutical research and collaborated with international pharmaceutical companies to develop more effective drug entities from existing drug metabolites.

TLC clients include biotechnology corporations, pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies, clinical and bioanalytical contract research organizations, manufacturers of specialty chemicals, as well as hospital researchers, universities and other research institutions.

“I am a person who wanted to do a good job, a perfect job, since the first time I stepped into chemistry laboratory,” said Dr. Chen.

“It doesn’t matter what you study, which field you are in or what you do. If you are persistent enough, you will be successful one day.”

For information about establishing scholarships, bursaries and awards at the Faculty of Science, please contact the faculty development officer at (709) 864 2696.

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